How to replace long low intensity rides?


New to trainerroad, 3 week in to my first SSB1 LV. Was planning to continue with Triathlon long distance plan. However, there are a lot of long duration (2,5 -4,5 h) rides in that plan. I do them outdoor, during the summer. But I am not mentally strong enough to do them indoor. What do you suggest that I replace them with until I can go outdoor again? Or should I go with another plan entierly? SSB1. SSB2, Build and so forth, in the volume that I can commit to? I have +28 weeks to my A race.

I would probably swap them out for Sweet Spot workouts that are like 60-75% of the length. Swap the 2.5 hour rides for 1.5 hour SS and the 4.5 hour rides for ~2 hour SS rides. Any longer than 2 hours and I might start trending downward toward tempo.

It wouldn’t be a perfect swap in terms of the aerobic adaptations you get from 3+ hour rides but it should be similar enough.


Thx! Yes, I understand that the long rides is there for reason. Just looking for the second best option, which this seem to be. :slight_smile: Thx.

potentially experiment with some fasted/low glycogen rides too

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@Charlie_Botterill you mean sweat spot and fasted? To learn to use alternative (no sugar) source for energy? Thx for tips.

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I would suggest trying to get mentally strong enough to do them! A powerful fan and good stuff to watch on TV really help!

If I can do 4-5 hours on a trainer then you can too!


I think there are a bunch of options and you’ll have to try them out and see what works best for you.

  • Cut back to 1.5 - 2hr sweet spot rides or whatever duration you can handle.

  • Spend a little time trying different entertainment options: Youtube / Netflix / race videos / POV race coverage / TV / Audio books. Coach Chad will read sometimes, which blows my mind.

  • Try some games / simulators. So many options with Road Grand Tours, Zwift, Rouvy, etc.

Back when I started cycling in 2003 - 2004 I did some 4-5 hour trainer rides with movies / TV and after a couple of those I burned out and did not do any trainer ride over 90min long for maybe 13+ years. During those times I watched cycling race coverage, cyclocross races, MTB races, etc. It wasn’t until I started using zwift that I got back to riding 2-4 hours on the trainer.

The main thing is we need to enjoy what we’re doing. So I would either cut back the time to a length that I still enjoy and just deal with the consequences and/or experiment with different entertainment options so I can get closer to the desired duration while still enjoying the experience. I would advise against forcing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy, that is a recipe for burnout.

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I have been doing this exact thing in the GBHV plan that I’m currently on. Our city is currently in lock down and we have an exercise restriction of 1 hour per day. Therefore I can’t do the long slow rides outside so I’ve been doing the Sweet Spot + Tempo sessions fasted in the mornings and opting for an extra 30min added on to the workouts in Endurance power output. Working well. Engine is building. Becoming more efficient in terms of fuel. Lost a tonne of weight too.

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Exercise restriction outside? That sounds like communism…and that is coming from a left coast Canadian!

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Good suggestion. Thx!

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Good points @Craig_G. I will definately try for at least 2 to 2.5. Thx! I selected bewteen Trainerroad and Zwift as my digital partner this winter. I liked and like the structured apporach Trainerroad offers. Maybe I’ll end up with both. :slight_smile:

This is the main reason I started this thread.

It can be done!

The first few hours feel easy, so you can chat online, work, read a book even. It takes a while but the plans work you in slowly and the seemingly impossible four hour session will get done, and in doing teach you to fuel, prep your bike fit and build mental strength :muscle:

Not if youre actually planning on doing a long course triathlon event, theres no substitute unfortunately.


I don’t disagree but I was just answering his question.


I was looking at the last block of the Full Distance Tri plan and it looks like you can get in the same TSS ballpark as the 3-4 hour aerobic / endurance zone rides with 2-2.5hr sweet spot workouts, so that might be a reasonable substitution and minimize shorting your weekly training volume target. The 4.5 and 4.75hr rides, oof, I might just accept coming in a little short those weeks and do 2.5hr SS.

I feel like I have my indoor entertainment pretty dialed in and frequently do 3.5-4hrs on Saturday and 3hrs on Sunday if the weather is bad. But 4 is pretty much my limit and it can be a bit of a struggle at the end. I sometimes do stupid tests like can I do a 4 hr solo 100 mile TT in Zwift? How much vertical on Alpe de Zwift can I do in 4 hours? to help with the short-term motivation and give myself a little challenge to overcome.

I will disagree with some statements about mental strength and forcing yourself to do long workouts when you have difficulty going more than 2.5 hrs. I feel like people in cycling and triathlon often ‘fetishize’ suffering and self-abuse like they are good things. Is it better to force yourself to do the long indoor workouts and risk burnout or find a compromise that gets you 85-90% of what you need but leaves you excited about sport, motivated and raring to go? Which is better for your long term success and enjoyment of sport?


I second this. If you would have asked me a few months ago if i could complete a 3.5 hour trainer ride, I would have laughed at you. I completed Appalachian today watching the Tour. Started at the bottom and now I’m here!


What gets you through? Am happily taking entertainment suggestions as I have Ptarmigan (3 hours) coming up on Wednesday!

It’s common (especially TR) for ppl to recommend replacing long riding with SweetSpot. Usually it is because they are focused on matching TSS, load, etc. The argument against doing this is valid I think but not always clearly explained. Someone will say: “but you lose some of the benefits, not the same thing” or some such. And they are right but what exactly is it that makes a long low intensity ride beneficial (over, say, higher intensity). Why can’t I just plug some SST intervals in to sub for long ride?

One of the main benefits is to teach your body to use fat as a fuel source. At SweetSpot intensity, you really don’t (or much less so). Sure, you’re matching load but you’re missing out on one of the biggest benefits.

Here’s an example, my FatMax used to be around 190w (65% Fat, 35% Carb at this intensity). I would do long rides and bread and butter weekday aerobic rides at or near this intensity. At that time my FTP was 280w (Carb 100%, Fat 0%). Your numbers would be different but the trend is the same. Threshold or near threshold no fat use. FatMax, by definition. the highest percentage of usage. Those are the two extremes in terms of fat use.

Where is SweetSpot? About 90% of 280w (~250). The fat utilization at that intensity is very close to threshold (in other words, very low…probably not zero, but very close). It’s why is common to be hungry after big SST session and why you’re encouraged to fuel these rides. They’re all carbs. You’re getting muscular endurance benefit at 250w (and targeting improvements in FTP), but it’s coming at the expense of training fat utilization. For a long course athlete, you simply cannot ignore training at intensity that use a high % of fat. Crits, sure. XC and cross. Probably. Those races are only about an hour. Fat use important but not like it is when riding half, full, centuries, long gravel, etc.

Problem is, you can’t get fast dilly-dallying around at 190w (68% FTP). You need muscular work. But if you try to get your muscular work from SweetSpot you will not spend any time using fat as a fuel source. It’s too high an intensity.

So what do I do to get muscular endurance work without sacrificing training fat use?

Tempo. In the example above, my “medio” intensity was 235w (.83-.84). At that intensity. my substrate utilization was 45% Fat, 55% Carbs. Granted, that’s not as good as FatMax, but 45% Fat is still a decent amount of fat use, AND you get good muscular endurance work with long intervals at that intensity. Look up Cumberland, Phoenix, etc. Progress the tempo interval as long as you can. 2x30mins. Then longer. Maybe get to where you don’t even intervalize it.

If you can get on the trainer for 2-2.5 hrs, a better substitute for the long ride isn’t SweetSpot intervals. It’s 2-2.5 hours of Zone 2 warmup, Zone 2 cool down, with as big a block of low Tempo as you can progress to. I regularly do 2x45min or 1x90min of tempo.

If I want to target FTP, then do some SweetSpot intervals. Nothing wrong with that. But that’s not really what the long ride is for. If you’re trying to find a substitute on shorter time, the best you can do is tempo.


Great response here. Loved reading it. There really is a lot to be said about long slow endurance rides and the utilization of fat as fuel - especially if you are trying to drop a bit of body fat % or just become more efficient for the longer events.

I welcome the long slow Endurance rides like Boarstone (2hrs) and Ptarmigan (3hrs) in the schedule. Both target around 60-75% FTP.

This article below is a good little summary of fat oxidation and speed of contraction:

Much larger quantities of ATP can be obtained by the oxidation of fatty acids derived from the breakdown of fat in adipose tissue, but the maximal rate of ATP generation is slower yet than that of glycogen oxidation and is more than tenfold slower than that with creatine phosphate. Thus, ATP is generated much more slowly from high-capacity stores than from limited ones, accounting for the different velocities of anaerobic and aerobic events.

This is also a good article that refers to some good studies about FatMax in it e.g % being different for everyone + duration over intensity etc:

Fatmax: duration rather than intensity

At this point, if all you want to know is what exercise intensity is going to burn the most fat, you may be feeling rather confused so let’s try and clarify. Firstly, it seems that the use of a ‘Fatmax’ intensity based on 70-75% MHR/60-65% MHR in fit/less fit athletes is far too simplistic because recent studies show that:

- The rate of fat burning may well be constant across a wide range of exercise intensities.
- The rate of fat burning at any given exercise intensity is varies hugely from person to person, even among those of similar fitness levels.
- The rate of fat burning increases as exercise duration increases – it’s therefore meaningless to talk about Fatmax without knowing the exercise duration.

The last point is particularly relevant; a very recent (2013) study on runners measured fat oxidation while they ran on a treadmill(5). It showed that that the exercise intensity to induce Fatmax during a 10-minute test was very different to that when the test was extended to 60 minutes.

Given all these facts, a rather better approach to fat burning might be to think in terms of duration rather than intensity. In other words, rather than worrying about training at a specific % of maximum heart rate or VO2max, perhaps athletes should perform fat-burning workouts by training for longer periods (an hour or more) at a very comfortable intensity.

In the studies above (3,5), the rate of fat burning remained the same at both the lowest and highest exercise intensities. A long, low-intensity workout would therefore burn just as many fat calories as a long, higher-intensity workout but be far less taxing in terms of training load. This is important because we know that increased or excessive training loads can put athletes at risk of overtraining and compromised immunity. Of course, the total calorie burn in a long, higher intensity workout will be higher, but the downside is that these kinds of sessions may impair the capacity to complete high-quality workouts such as interval training.

And this one that goes along with the duration over % FTP as mentioned above:

Several earlier studies were aimed at determining an exercise intensity that elicits maximal fat oxidation (Fatmax). However, these studies employed few different intensities or used exercise periods of too short a duration. All investigators described intensity with reference to maximal ergometric values, which might lead to metabolically inhomogeneous workloads between individuals. The aim of this study was to determine Fatmax by overcoming these methodological shortcomings of earlier investigations. Ten healthy recreational athletes (29 +/- 5 y; 75 +/- 6 kg; 1.81 +/- 0.04 m) conducted an initial incremental cycling test to determine VO2 peak (59.2 +/- 6.1 and individual anaerobic threshold (IAT; 221 +/- 476 W). Within 4 weeks, 5 constant-load tests of 1 h duration were carried out at 55%, 65%, 75%, 85%, and 95% IAT. During all tests indirect calorimetry (MetaMax I, Cortex, Leipzig, Germany) served to quantify fat oxidation. Capillary blood sampling for lactate measurements was conducted every 15 min. All subjects remained in a lactate steady state during the constant load tests, which minimized influences from excess CO2. There was no difference between the 5 intensities for the percentage of energy from fat metabolism (p = 0.12). Additionally, the intensities led to similar absolute amounts of oxidized fat (p = 0.34). However, there was a significant increase in fat metabolism with increasing exercise duration (p = 0.04). It is impossible to define one theoretical optimal intensity for fat oxidation that is true in all individuals. It is thus mandatory to perform an individual assessment with indirect calorimetry. Intra-individual day-to-day variation might render the use of several tests of long duration less applicable than incremental testing with stages of sufficient duration.


@CH01 Yes! I think to reinforce your point (and hopefully not confuse the matter), my absolute values were 50 g/hr and 41 g/hr for FatMax and Medio, respectively. Not that different.

(Interesting side note: Recovery zone was lower absolute number but higher percentage because the overall grams were less, suggesting there is such a thing as going too slow…and also that you shouldn’t just look at percentages).

But check out carbs. 120 g/hr to 60 g/hr for Medio and FatMax, respectively. So total grams goes up with increased intensity, you start to grab more carbs, making the percentage of fat usage go down, but in absolute terms, still close enough (50 vs41).

At threshold, 243 g/hr and nearly no fat. That’s twice as much carbs and you haven’t really gone that much higher in terms of %FTP. More importantly (at least for me), no fat utilization. And you can accumulate more minutes at tempo than SweetSpot/Threshold, just have to be mindful of fatigue like anything else.

And fatigue management is ultimately why there really is no substitute for the long ride. Collect a lot of minutes burning something like 50 g/hr (yes you can manipulate with diet etc but let’s keep it simple), without accumulating as much fatigue as the same amount of time at higher intensities.

If you can’t do that longer duration (at least try it), throw in some tempo, but not SweetSpot/Threshold.

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